Researchers have successfully removed a gene responsible for heart failure from human embryos using gene-editing.
A team of international researchers have used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to successfully remove a genetic disease from viable human embryos. This breakthrough could be used by doctors to remove genetic mutations from fetuses before they are born, and maybe even other inherited characteristics.
In the study published in Nature, scientists fertilized donor eggs with sperm samples that included a gene that is known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart failure. As the eggs were being inseminated, they also applied CRISPR, which works as high-precision scissors that can cut away a mutated part of a gene.
Lead by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive-biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, the researchers report that 42 out of the 58 embryos were not only fixed, but the rest of their genes were left undamaged by the procedure.
The cells were able to repair themselves and leave out the mutation they were carrying before.
Had the embryos been allowed to develop into human beings, they would’ve grown without carrying the disease they had genetically inherited from their parents. However, they were all destroyed a few days after.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is just one of thousands of conditions that are caused by mutated genes. The same gene-editing technique could be used to eliminate all such diseases from infants long before birth, and maybe even cancer mutations.
However, due many to ethical and legal questions, it will be a while before it is available as a treatment.
Though it was used to edit out a disease causing gene, the scientists did in fact modify the organisms nuclear DNA, which also contains individual characteristics such as eye color, height, intelligence, and facial structure.
Skeptics are afraid that gene-editing tools might one day become commercialized and offer potential parents the option birth a genetically modified, custom made child.
If the option became available and, for example, people started choosing to only have intelligent and attractive children – which is most likely to happen -, we could face an extinction of many traits that are generally unwanted and end up losing our genetic diversity.